Flexible Learning at UAL – initial thoughts

Academic Planning Sub Committee, 26th January 2012. Purpose of paper: This paper is a response to APSC’s stated wish to review the extent of flexible learning at UAL, with a view to the possibility of extending flexible provision.  It is also timely because in preparation for QAA Institutional Review in 2013, UAL is reviewing the extent of its existing flexible provision, and the forms that flexibility takes, to ensure that all relevant quality processes are sufficient and fit for purpose.  This paper makes an initial attempt to define the field and map out some of the future considerations, investigations, and possibilities for APSC. Draft By Shân Wareing 24/1/12.
DefinitionsFlexible and distributed learning (FDL) denotes educational provision leading to an award, or to specific credit toward an award, of an awarding institution delivered and/or supported and/or assessed through means which generally do not require the student to attend particular classes or events at particular times and particular locations.

QAA Code of Practice, Distributed and Flexible Learning, para. 13

I.e. Flexible learning can be

  • at a distance
  • not require regular scheduled participation
  • delivered somewhere other than the awarding institution

Flexible in the context of UAL may also mean:

  • Part time
  • Teaching outside the normal hours – e.g. evening, weekend, holidays
  • Learning which takes place in other environments, e.g. placements

These elements can also be combined, as they are in blended learning (i.e. replacing f2f contact to some extent, over and above complementary support to f2f).

Illustrative case study

MA Arts: Digital Arts, Camberwell

Course Director: Jonathan Kearney

Mode: full time and part time

F2f and distance

Teaching structure: 2 hour weekly seminar, which all students attend – PT/FT, f2f and distance (via skype); course wiki: http://madigitalarts.wikispaces.com/ and student blogs

The Case for Flexible Learning

Business Opportunities

  • Better use of the estate, through timetabling use of estate in current low-use times of day, or the week, and of the year
  • Capacity to expand provision without need to expand physical estate
  • Online resources can cost no more, or their unit cost can drop, if more students use them
  • Some costs transfer to the student (e.g. equipment, printing, utilities)
  • There are possibly untapped markets which flexible learning could open up (e.g. in continuing professional development for people who due to work or family commitments cannot attend a course in London
  • We might retain students who leave now (total c.20%) if there were alternative participation modes
  • It can support the process of extending our global reach and reputation, by increasing our international students without their having to uproot to the UK

Pedagogic Opportunities

  • Can encourage experimentation, innovation and pedagogic benefits – e.g. ‘flipped’ delivery, where lectures are delivered as text, audio or video recording, and the tutor time is freed up for more on to one discussion, or participation in small group discussions
  • Addressing the demands of flexible learning can support fundamental  pedagogic good practice, such as reflection and peer learning
  • Will support the development of more digitally literate staff and students
  • Can fit with staff preferences for flexible working

Student Experience Opportunities

  • The opportunity to work in multiple media (text, audio, video, image), and for learning to generate its own trail for reflection and re-use creates a rich environment in which many students thrive
  • It is possible for student communities to thrive online better than face to face, due to a reduction in impact of some demographic differences (e.g. cultural norms for turn-taking in discussion)
  • Some students prefer, or need, the opportunity to study flexibly, in order to combine study with work and family responsibilities
  • The challenge of the new environment can result in better deployment of resources in the curriculum delivery and in student support

The Risks of Increased Flexible Learning

Business Risks

  • Splitting the offer may result in confusion amongst prospective students
  • The demands on the IT infrastructure would grow, which would incur costs in kit and staff
  • Some staff may oppose working more flexibly
  • Quality assurance processes would need to be developed to be fully suitable for the provision, to protect the student experience and the University’s reputation

Pedagogic Risks

  • Insufficient numbers of staff may develop the necessary pedagogic or digital skills to deliver a satisfactory experience
  • The practice-base of many of our subjects may not convert to distance or digital delivery
  • Some processes would be impossible without specialist equipment

Student Experience Risks

  • The group dynamic may not transfer to distance or online delivery in all cases
  • The logistical implications of providing student support and all other necessary aspects of the infrastructure flexibly would need to be modelled very carefully

Possible Next Steps

  1. Agree institutional definition of Flexible Learning
  2. Map fully the extent of existing flexible provision, along with data for student recruitment, retention and achievement, evidence of satisfaction, and evidence of net costs.
  3. Explore specific areas for expansion, to monitor in terms of the risks and opportunities outlined above.

Shân Wareing

Dean of Learning and Teaching Development


QAA Code of Practice 2, para 23; extended definition

‘Flexible and distributed learning’ is used here to characterise approaches to teaching, learning and assessment that:

  • do not require a student’s place of study to be physically located within the institution (the awarding institution) whose academic award is being sought through successful completion of the programme of study;
  • do not assume that a student’s programme of study is necessarily delivered directly by the awarding institution;
  • do not assume that a student is necessarily directly supported by staff of the awarding institution;
  • do not assume that a student is routinely working with other students; and
  • do not necessarily require assessment of a student’s achievement to take place at the location of the awarding institution.

This suggests that it might be possible to envisage a space within which a student’s experience of learning at any one time could be represented as a function of the size of the group of learners, the location of learning and the mode of learning.

College Rough Estimates of Flexible Learning Provision

Camberwell Chelsea Wimbledon CSM LCC LCF
Part time a few- (PG level pathways) A few. We have one BA part-time mode – BA Fine Art Part-time with a total of 30 students enrolled. 3 out of 6 A few one, MA Photojournalism & Documentary photography, on-line delivery 90 weeks (Media) A substantial proportion (in the School of Management & Science – 202 ftes)
weekend/ evening/ out of term time teaching only things like kids Saturday club/ drawing nothing integral to an award None None None None A substantial proportion
(Primarily) Distance one- online digital arts None None None As above, MA Photojournalism & Documentary photography A few
Blended courses in which c30% or more of learning & teaching activity is conducted online not f2f None None None None one, the Diploma in Industrial Studies (Graphics) None
Courses where industrial placements carry credit/ where students are on placement for a whole academic term or longer online digital arts does end up with a few weeks based at CCA to install the show None None None None None
Courses that allow students to make other choices about when and where they study which have a substantial impact on how learning & the timetable is organized only in the case of accommodated assessment- no cases I am aware of at present) None None None None None
Comments We are looking at flexible learning as part of our PG revalidation that will take place next year We are in the process of validating a two-year MA Fine Art Part-time mode to commence Sept 2012. This will aim to have 20 students in each year.Subsequent to this we will be looking to develop part-time modes of other MAs where we think there is sufficient demand. BA (Hons) Fashion Business (PT)  – 97 studentsBA (Hons) Fashion Media / Fashion Culture and Communication (PT) 69 studentsBA (Hons) Fashion Design and Realisation (PT) 71 studentsFdA Fashion Retail Branding and Visual Merchandising PT 33 studentsFdA Fashion Marketing Promotion Online

Academic Planning Sub Committee, 26th January 2012

DRAFT SW 24/1/12

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